Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

Carlton: Still grieving for husband, Tampa council member forges ahead

A thing can happen so fast. You know a man — the hazel-green of his eyes, his biting wit — for 50 years and are his wife for 44. You have crossed oceans, ridden planes and trains together, raised a daughter, celebrated a grandson. You worked elbow to elbow on political campaigns you both believed in. At some point, you started watching Turner Classic Movies together at night, never seeing the endings because you both fell asleep.

And then he is gone.

When she says his name — Juan Capin, behind-the-scenes political organizer and late husband of Tampa City Council member Yolie Capin — she gives it that same Ybor City spin as with "Cuban sandwich," which inevitably came out "sengwich" in those only-in-Tampa discussions of what constitutes a historically correct Cuban. "Hwong" is roughly how she says her husband's name — a thing between her and the man who was behind her when she first ran for office in her 50s and who should be here now when she is about to run again.

When he was in the hospital last year with a rare and aggressive liver cancer, an aide who came by brought a letter saying the councilwoman was getting an award from Creative Loafing. It didn't say for what.

On his last day, because he was losing his ability to talk, he used a chalkboard and wrote one insistent word: AWARD? They still didn't know, but their daughter jumped in and said politician of the year. This made him smile.

It turned out to be for "Best Legislative Cojones," because she had the, uh, heart to call a local big shot a "slumlord." Her husband would have liked that title even better.

When she talks about him these nine months later, she laughs as much as the tears come. "Sometimes," she says, "there is not enough oxygen in the air."

Here is a story of a marriage: Early on, she worked as a minimum-wage Tampa General Hospital ward clerk while he finished college and was a bellhop by night. They saved $5,000 for a house.

One day she came home to detailed plans for a trip to Spain to see his aging grandmother and to South America, where he had also lived. "No house?" she said. Yolie, he told her firmly, we can do this now or when we're 65. They went. "He always took the road less traveled," she says. "I just tagged along."

He loved soccer, she did not, but on politics they were in step. She grew up knowing the value of a vote — her 95-year-old grandmother cast an absentee ballot before she died. He loved the political process. He did not want attention himself — "never again," he said of the one surprise party she threw him — but long encouraged her to run. Finally, she was ready.

In those last days he told her: Do not spiral. Do not drop out. She doesn't know who drove her home from the hospital. She did not drop out. Her campaign kickoff invitation lists 98 people on her still-forming election committee, some big names impressive enough to give any potential challenger pause. And that, a friend observed recently, is pure Juan Capin.

Tampa politics are rarely dull, and an item in La Gaceta's in-the-know column said the mayor with whom Capin has butted heads was rumored to be encouraging people to run against her. Capin smiles at this. She says she is not an easy target. "I have a resilience," she says. "My husband knew that."

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